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Not That Parable of Talents

I get to work with some phenomenally impressive people.

Time after time I am amazed by the intelligence, insight, dedication, and accomplishments of charity leaders; truly some unsung heroes. In many cases they are people with rare and remarkable talents, who have then honed their craft through years of experience to be truly exceptional in their fields.

But it’s not really the technical mastery that impresses me most. My favourites among the leaders I work with are those who remain curious, trying new things personally and professionally. Those who take up new hobbies, join unusual clubs, or take on challenges outside their comfort zone just for the sheer fun of it.

This story about Kurt Vonnegut rings very true:

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

In the long run healthy leaders are usually those who have interests outside their expertise and who don’t need to be great at everything to enjoy themselves. Interesting people.

I often share the phrase ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly” as a reminder to myself and others that the important things in life are rarely east from the beginning. We need to be willing to do things at which we aren’t particularly talented alongside our areas of uncommon skill. Sometimes it leads to discovery of an untapped excellence, but often it may simply be a pleasant curiosity that gives us some perspective and fun.

What are you doing that isn’t an area of particular talent?

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